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Harnessing the Power of Long-term Thinking

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Everything around us these days promises a quick fix. 

Over the course of a single day, you’re probably inundated by ways to improve your abs, vanquish your back pain, make a million dollars, or find the love of your life in record time.  Our attention as a society moves from one thing to the next without deliberate, consistent focus placed on any one thing for an extended period of time.  And we’re all learning from each other to think about things in terms of minutes or hours and not months or years.

Click for photoYet so many of us set out to do what’s promised for us without an understanding of the work required, just to fall short again and again… because what we’re not told is that while in some cases it could be possible, it’s in no way probable for short-term thinking to work.  Blame the internet all you want, but this is only going to get worse.

When you think back to just 15 or 20 years ago, global attention wasn’t this defocused.  News cycles didn’t refresh every 15 minutes, people didn’t carry on three SMS conversations while eating lunch with you, and there was a clear expectation of having to “pay your dues” before being promoted into the corner office.  There’s certainly been a shift in expectations and it’s immediately apparent when you talk to folks from the now dubbed “entitlement generation”.

Even referencing a generation makes me feel old, but for the millions of people who have grown up on the net, overnight success isn’t just possible – it’s expected.  They’ve seen instant celebrity blossom from a talentless vacuum, 20 year old millionaires on the cover of Newsweek, and many end up with an age bias, feeling that things have to happen for them before they get “old”.

The media messes with our minds.  The stories that sell are the ones that we all read with awe, wishing we could have that type of overnight success.  It’s the Kardashian syndrome.  Overnight success may happen for Mike “The Situation” but for the vast majority of people with enduring and durable success – the type you should strive for – it took time.  Lots of time and lots of work.

Take Elizabeth Gilbert, the best-selling author of “Eat, Pray, Love”.  Certainly she looks like an overnight success – yet she had been fine-tuning her craft for years publishing books read by only her most loyal followers, while living in obscurity. 

Facebook is the fastest growing business to reach 500 million people in history.  And it took 6 years and tons of hard work by hundreds of people.  That they are celebrating their success now after the bulk of people discovered the site over the last year or two doesn’t take away from the years spent building the foundation.

President Obama, the overnight sensation, had been preparing (and working hard) for his moment most of his life.  He wasn’t plucked off the street and thrust on-stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.  He had a highly calculated “long term” approach.

Short-term thinking has its place, though I’m not sure it’s in the important stuff.  If you’re thinking and planning for tomorrow or the next day because you’re buying into all the hype around us, it may end up handicapping your success over the long haul.  And I don’t know about you, but I plan on living a long, long time.

Generally, when it comes to long-term thinking, the thing you realize pretty quickly is that if you plan for the future, you’re never surprised by the present.  If you take the long view and prepare appropriately, you’re going to be ready when things happen for you.  Get your house in order and things that would normally have been seen as unexpected wins become expected.

Long term thinking applies equally to a vast number of critical areas; finances, business strategy, fitness and health, relationships, career planning, and more. 

Every time you make an important decision ask yourself, “am I thinking for tomorrow, next year, or five years out?”  Figure out what the impact would be tomorrow vs. next year vs. in five years.  Is it something that’s setting you up for the future or a detour?  Think long and hard about whether that detour would really be worth it!

For example…

If you’re spending your entire paycheck instead of planning for your financial future, expecting a big windfall someday, start saving now.  If the windfall comes, great, and if it doesn’t, you’ll be fine.  If nothing else, you’ll at least be able to sleep at night.

If you’re aligning your business around short-term objectives or reacting immediately to a move by the competition, take a step back and think about the next strategic chess move – not the obvious one your competition expects you to make.  Leapfrog what they’re doing.

If you’re eating junk thinking you’ll get your diet in order someday, start thinking about how you can improve your health starting today and into the future.  You’ll feel better every day.

If you’re expecting to get in shape overnight, change your perspective and take the long view.  You’ll be more likely to stick with it and find the body you’re looking for.  Fitness is a lifelong thing – not something you do for a few weeks at a time.

This stuff isn’t rocket science, but so many of us don’t think about who or where we’ll be 5 years from now and whether or not the decisions we’re making now are best preparing us.  Those who do will be distinctly more ready for the impact.

(Photo by Leo Reynolds)

Written by Mike Torres

October 24th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Goal Setting

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